I’ve never attended any of the 15 film festivals regarded as the finest in the world — Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, etc. — but if I had a say in the matter, I’d put the Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) right up there as one of the best.
This year’s event, the 20th annual (Oct. 22 to Oct. 30), expects big audiences at two Cinépolis locations, as well as the new Teatro Mariano Matamoros in the heart of the historic center and a cinema under the stars showing free black-and-white Mexican classics (and more) every night in the city’s central plaza.
Though the nine-day affair has a decidedly populist, accessible feel — every morning, people line up at the downtown Cinépolis to secure tickets for that day’s screenings, most at a cost of 71 pesos (US $3.55) per film, and many are free — Mexico’s most important film festival is also a major player on the world stage.
“Created in 2002, the Morelia International Film Festival immediately became one of the most important film events of the Latin-American subcontinent,” says a Cannes Critics’ Week newsletter put out by the French Union of Film Critics. “Structured around three competitive selections (short films, documentaries and first- or second-feature films, all exclusively Mexican), this festival performs a wonderful work of discovery and fully supports the young talent from its country.”
“All exclusively Mexican” applies only to the competitive categories, however, which this year includes 60 short films, 14 documentaries, 11 works in the Michoacán category and 10 titles in the Mexican feature film section — adding up to 95 works by Mexican filmmakers, many of whom will present their films.
But “exclusively Mexican” in no way applies to the full lineup. The festival always showcases films from around the world.
Among the U.S. films on the docket:
- Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” will be shown twice in advance of its Nov. 11 U.S. release. A semi-autobiographical film about Spielberg’s youth in post–World War II Arizona, “The Fabelmans” had its world premiere last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award. Catch it on Oct. 29 at 8:45 p.m. at the Teatro Mariano Matamoros. In a nod to the director — who is not in attendance — his 1982 classic “E.T.” will also be screened on Oct. 28 at 6:15 p.m. at the Cinépolis Morelia Centro in Sala 3.
- “The Woman King,” a historical action film by director Gina Prince-Bythewood about a fierce, skillful unit of all-female warriors that protected the African kingdom of Dahomey for 200 years until the late 1800s, has several showings:
- Oct.25, 11 a.m., Teatro Mariano Matamoros
- Oct. 28, 3:30 p.m., Cinépolis Las Americas, in VIP Sala 2
- Oct. 29, noon, Cinépolis Las Americas, in Sala 2
- Oct. 30, noon, Cinépolis Las Americas, in Sala 4.
- “Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song,” a documentary about the acclaimed singer-songwriter who died in 2016. Filmmakers Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine will attend. Showings:
- Oct. 26, 2:30 p.m., Cinépolis Las Americas, in VIP Sala 2
- Oct. 27, 2 p.m., Teatro Mariano Matamoros
- Oct. 30, 12:30 p.m., Cinépolis Morelia Centro, in Sala 3.
- “Armageddon Time,” a drama about a white, pot-smoking New York City kid who pals around with an African-American kid but then gets sent to a snooty, racist, all-white boarding school. The film premiered at Cannes in May and opens in the U.S. on Friday.
- Oct. 26, 11 a.m., Teatro Mariano Matamoros
- Oct. 28, 9 p.m., Cinépolis Morelia Centro, in Sala 5
- Oct. 29, 10:45 a.m., Cinépolis Morelia Centro, in Sala 4
- Oct. 30, 2:45, Cinépolis Morelia Centro, Sala 1.
Notable international films include:
- “Broker.” Acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda‘s film about a baby who gets left in a mailbox. Showings:
- Oct. 25, Teatro Mariano Matamoros
- Oct. 28, noon, Cinépolis Morelia Centro, in Sala 4
- Oct. 29, 5:30 p.m., Cinépolis Las Americas, in Sala 4. Be warned that it’s being shown in the original language with Spanish subtitles only.
- “Triangle of Sadness,” a comedy-drama Palme d’Or winner at Cannes in May, this film in four languages has a global cast and Woody Harrelson as captain of a luxury yacht for the super-rich.
- Oct. 25, 9 p.m., Cinépolis Morelia Centro, in Sala 4
- Oct. 27, noon, Cinépolis Morelia Centro, in Sala 4
- Oct. 28, 8:30 p.m., Teatro Mariano Matamoros
- Oct. 29, 9 p.m., Cinépolis Morelia Centro, in Sala 5
- Oct. 30, 11 a.m., Cinépolis Morelia Centro in Sala 4.
Saturday’s opening-night selection has passed but is worth mentioning: the Latin American debut of “Bardo, falsa crónica de unas cuantas verdades” (known as “Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” in English) by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñarritu, winner of five Oscars and three British Academy Film Awards.Trailer for Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s new film, “Bardo: False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths.”
The semi-autobiographical film, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month and hits Mexican theaters on Thursday, stars Mexican actor and three-time Ariel Award-winner Daniel Giménez Cacho. About a renowned Mexican journalist-documentarian living in Los Angeles who’s forced to return to his native country and spirals into an existential crisis, it’s Iñarritu’s first film shot entirely in Mexico since his debut, “Amores Perros,” in 2000.
“Bardo” opens in limited release in the U.S. on Nov. 4 and arrives on Netflix on Dec. 16.
Another Netflix-bound film set to have a grand Latin American debut at the festival is Guillermo del Toro’s reimagining of “Pinocchio.” Part of the stop-motion sequences were shot by Mexican animators in Guadalajara, and the story is set during the rise of fascism in Mussolini’s Italy.
Unfortunately, del Toro will not be in attendance.
I’ll be catching glimpses of this country’s inner workings by viewing Mexican documentaries and short films at the festival. Many offerings have English subtitles. I’m also sure I’ll catch a few Mexican feature films, and when I do, they’ll likely be directed by a woman: eight of the 10 directors competing for the festival’s Best Mexican Feature award are women.
“We have always supported women,” Daniela Michel Concha, the festival’s artistic director of programming, said at a recent press conference. “Of the 2,000 filmmakers who have participated in Morelia over 19 years, there are practically half men and half women, so I feel very happy and proud that right now in this edition, there are eight out of 10 [in this category]. The commitment to them has been permanent.”
I’ll also enjoy seeing Mexican classics from the 1940s and 1950s — part of The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. The era is loaded with outstanding films and the films will have English subtitles. This year, offerings include the Hitchcockian “Él” (1953), by director Luis Buñuel and made in Mexico, and a nine-film tribute to Alejandro Galindo, one of the era’s finest directors. The salute includes a showing of “Una familia de tantas” (“A Family of Many”) from 1948 and “Los Fernández de Peralvillo” (1953), both which won Mexican Oscars.
The festival also has a penchant for showing old U.S. films partially set in Mexico. I’ll be sure to catch “One Way Street” (1950), a noir crime drama starring James Mason and Dan Duryea, showing on Oct. 25 at the Cinépolis Morelia Centro.
And speaking of old movies, the festival’s program includes four films starring the stoic U.S. actor Robert Mitchum:
- “Out of the Past” (1947). Nearly 20% of the film takes place in what is said to be Acapulco, with Mitchum wearing a business suit and tie on the beach in one scene!
- “The Big Steal” (1949). A man flees to Mexico with some stolen loot and Mitchum pursues him.
- “His Kind of Woman” (1951). A down-on-his luck gambler accepts a mysterious job in Mexico. Costars Jane Russell, Vincent Price and Raymond Burr.
- “The Wonderful Country” (1959). A Technicolor classic where Mitchum is an expat in Mexico hired to buy guns in the U.S. and bring them back.
For locations and times of any showings not given in this article, consult the festival’s bilingual schedule, which you can view or download as a PDF here.
There’s still more: more than 30 film premieres, including “Roost,” directed by Amy Redford — Robert Redford’s daughter — a selection of films from Critics’ Week at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, a couple of films about Ukraine and an Indigenous peoples’ forum that includes three features and seven short films.
Finally, American director and Oscar winner Barry Jenkins heads the 2022 guest list; four of his films will be shown, including the 2017 Academy Award Best Picture “Moonlight”:
- Oct. 26 at 4:15 p.m., Cinépolis Morelia Centro in Sala 5
- Oct. 28 at 8:30 p.m. Cinépolis Morelia Centro in Sala 1
Other guests include producer Frank Marshall (“Paper Moon,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”); Spanish actress Maribel Verdú; and French director Claire Denis.
For details on all the showings and events, visit the festival website, search the daily schedule or check out the virtual offerings on Cinépolis Klic, FilminLatino and Canal 22. The two Cinépolis locations will not require face masks, but screenings there will “be carried out under rigorous adherence to the Cinépolis new normal protocol.”
Andy Altman-Ohr is a former Oakland Tribune sports writer who later wrote about pastrami, bagels and hummus when he was managing editor of J. The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California. He and his wife are semi-retired, spending much of their time in Morelia, Michoacán.